Digital Inclusion? A Comparative Analysis of Broadband Policies Affecting Indigenous Populations in the U.S. and Canada

Posted: 1 Apr 2013

See all articles by Heather Hudson

Heather Hudson

University of Alaska Anchorage - Institute of Social and Economic Research

Date Written: March 31, 2013


This paper provides a comparative analysis of policies affecting indigenous populations in the U.S. and Canada, including analysis of data from Alaska and other U.S. tribal regions and from northern Canada. Both countries have policies with goals of universal access to broadband, and both have used government subsidies to encourage investment in unserved and underserved regions.

However, they take different approaches to issues affecting rural indigenous populations including affordability for users and sustainability for providers. Further, indigenous involvement in providing services varies, with some native-owned traditional telecommunications co-operatives in the U.S. and native-owned ISPs in Canada. Neither country has addressed convergence of fixed and mobile technologies as delivery platforms in remote and tribal regions, although mobile phones are widespread and other portable devices such as tablets are increasingly popular.

The paper examines the potential impact of the transition from previous universal service fund (USF) subsidies to the Connect America Fund for remote tribal service areas in the U.S., as well as other issues the FCC is addressing such as whether Lifeline subsidies should be extended to broadband, and whether USF should be used for digital literacy. It also analyzes new FCC initiatives to expand broadband in tribal areas through targeted funding for tribal lands and remote regions and requirements for operator engagement with tribal representatives.

The paper also examines proposed Canadian strategies to extend broadband in remote areas, which are primarily composed of First Nations communities. It also examines the Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) decision requiring minimum broadband speed targets to be “available to all Canadian homes, regardless of their geographic location… by the end of 2015.” To date, there is little awareness of this new requirement among consumers, including First Nations residents or their representatives, and enforcement mechanisms are unclear.

The U.S. analysis reviews current initiatives of the FCC’s Office of Native Affairs and Policy (ONAP) including a reverse auction for 3G/4G licenses for tribal lands, fixed broadband funding for tribal lands, and funding for broadband Lifeline pilot projects. The Canadian analysis includes a review of federal funding for remote and indigenous broadband and CRTC decisions on universal access to broadband and a current CRTC case addressing broadband in the Canadian Arctic which is considering issues of quality of service, upgrades in facilities and bandwidth, and opening of competition for service provision.

The paper draws on field research and case studies in Alaska and an extensive literature review on broadband for rural/indigenous development by the author, and documentation obtained by the author from participation in Canadian policy and regulatory proceedings.

Universal access and consumer issues remain highly relevant in an increasingly information-dependent economy, which includes isolated regions and minority populations. They also serve as a microcosm of next-generation issues including provider sustainability in rural markets, converging fixed and mobile wireless technologies for broadband, strategies to encourage adoption and entrepreneurship, and accountability of providers. An analysis of policy and regulatory strategies to address these challenges is therefore relevant not only for North America but for other countries with remote and developing regions.

Keywords: broadband, rural, indigenous, tribal, Canada, Alaska, universal access

JEL Classification: L96, O18, O33, O38, O51, O57

Suggested Citation

Hudson, Heather, Digital Inclusion? A Comparative Analysis of Broadband Policies Affecting Indigenous Populations in the U.S. and Canada (March 31, 2013). Available at SSRN:

Heather Hudson (Contact Author)

University of Alaska Anchorage - Institute of Social and Economic Research ( email )

United States
4154200871 (Phone)
4154200871 (Fax)

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